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Opinionista

Ramaphosa’s #JobsSummit needs a reality check

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Oliver Meth is Communications Lead for the South African National Aids Council Civil Society Forum and Community Constituency Covid-19 Front.

If this regime continues to lock out the youth it will only fuel more of the energetic protest we have seen in recent times by the country’s burgeoning young population.

We have the deepest unemployment crisis in the world.

Every day, 900 people join the ranks of the unemployed in South Africa. A total of 9.6 million have no jobs, according to statistics recently released by the Centre for Development and Enterprise.

There are masses of unemployed graduates nationwide.

Almost every morning, I see at least two or more at Joburg’s busy traffic intersections, holding a placard and their degrees in one hand, pleading for employment. This hustle and bustle in the heart of the country’s economic hub must be replaced by throngs of exuberant protests.

Most delegates at the #JobsSummit “talk shop” don’t have the faintest idea of what being jobless is like. Nor do they face the immediate prospect of being unemployed.

While the summit purports to address the soaring issue of unemployment, those most affected, the young, unemployed poor working class, have been left out. Excluded from the table, while the elite “pave a way forward” for them. The most grave and pressing issue is youth unemployment.

South Africa faces massive youth unemployment, leaving young people fed up and frustrated by the lack of job opportunities, disgusted by rampant corruption and poor governance and tired of having no voice.

Today, a grim picture has been painted for school leavers, with statistics showing that one in two young people and two out of three young African women — are jobless.

Massive youth unemployment

South Africa aims to raise employment by 11 million to 24 million by 2030, in line with the National Development Plan. The unemployment rate in the country rose to 27.2% in the second quarter of 2018 from 26.7% in the previous quarter.

The government’s Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) provides on average jobs that last for no more than 48 days, which is worrying, because the longer young people are unemployed, the more unemployable they become.

In some countries, such as Sierra Leone, the number of young people lacking proper work exceeds 50%. The statistics are even more alarming in Nigeria, a country that churns out hundreds of thousands of graduates each year into a system that is bedevilled with corruption and unemployment.

This is not just a social disaster and a huge wasted economic asset. The ever-rising joblessness among the young and the desperation that accompanies it undermines the possibility of progress in South Africa. This risks destroying political and social structures, if you look at the alarming youth demographic trends.

As the late Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, explained so vividly, youth employment offers “the most obvious bridge between the development and security agendas embodied in the Millennium Declaration”.

The burden is borne by “all those living in communities and societies where youth unemployment is the root cause of destructive and self-destructive behaviour, ranging from activity in neighbourhood gangs to membership of local militias, where unemployed young people desperately seek not only income, but also recognition and a sense of belonging.”

The 2011 Arab Spring uprising in Egypt should be a lesson that no one can stop the will of the people. While government continues to “talk left and walk right”, the masses of the people suffer grinding poverty daily.

The Ramaphosa administration should stop projecting itself as a saviour which can singularly deliver people from the evils of neo-colonialism and poverty.

I’m continuously humbled by the determination and courage of young people in South Africa — whether at busy traffic intersections – finding their voices and peacefully, but defiantly advocating change. Young people in this region are not the leaders of the future — they are the leaders of now.

South African youth want the same thing as young people everywhere: a sense of hope, opportunity, and a chance to be active, productive members of their communities and societies.

Our job is to support them in achieving that vision. I hope when the #JobsSummit hot air eventually settles, that government, the private sector and civil society organisations join together with the poor, unemployed working class youth, ensuring they have access to the tools and opportunities they need to build a dignified, peaceful, and productive life for themselves and their communities.

The youth have always played key roles in the liberation struggle.

The class of 1976 bravely took to the streets and overturned the long-held notion within the liberation movement that the working class was the essential force in challenging the apartheid regime. The 1973 Durban strike and the 1976 student’s revolt brought together the most significant forces and changed the face of South African history by challenging the apartheid regime.

If this regime continues to lock out the youth, there is no doubt it will fuel more of the energetic protest we have seen in recent times by the country’s burgeoning young population.

We’ve seen unemployed graduates organise themselves, wearing their academic regalia, carrying placards at traffic intersections — I think it’s now time to form a silent guard of honour at Gallagher Estate — just to add reality to the #JobsSummit talk shop. DM

Oliver Meth is a media strategist and journalist. He recently worked as communications consultant on the #CR17: Ramaphosa ANC Presidential Campaign. He writes in his personal capacity.

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